Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 18, 2005
Secular media fail to grasp pope
'Astonishing reverence' mixed with platform for Catholic dissidents
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Most mainstream media coverage surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II has been surprisingly reverent and respectful despite dissident elements, say Catholic media observers.
These observers say, however, journalists failed to understand the reasons behind the pope's charisma, his popularity with young people, or the massive outpouring of grief, which some media commentators and Catholic dissidents dismissed as a "personality cult."
While the pope was universally praised for his pivotal role in the fall of communism, for his bridge-building with the Jews and other religious faiths, and his personal charisma, most media reports contained a seemingly obligatory comment criticizing the pope for his "anti-democratic" views on sexuality, birth control and women priests.
CBC waits an hour . . .
Kathy Shaidle, author, Catholic Register columnist and Canadian Catholic blogger, has been keeping track of some of the more strident examples of media coverage at www.relapsedcatholic.com.
In an entry entitled "CBC waits an hour, then trashes pope," Shaidle reveals that CBC News posted a story on its website right after the pope died headlined "Former nun slams pope's views on women, contraception."
In it Joanna Manning, co-founder of Catholic Organizations for Renewal, said the pope's refusal to ordain women gives men tacit permission to "direct the lives of women." She also accused him of being "death dealing" because of his refusal to condone condoms to fight AIDs.
The same day, The New York Times briefly posted an unfinished obituary on its website. The second paragraph read: "Need some quote from supporter."
After describing the Times' gaffe, columnist Mark Steyn wrote in the April 4 Irish Times, "The pontiff's many 'detractors' were all lined up and ready to go, but, despite over a billion Catholics in the world . . . the paper somehow failed to notice till the last minute that they'd overlooked something."
Tom Langan, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Toronto and a former president of the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL), told CCN that right after the pope's death was not the time to "thrash out" issues like sexuality or women priests. "By and large the media didn't attempt to do that."
Phil Horgan, president of the CCRL agreed, noting he saw not only media criticism of the pope, but also frequent appearances of Catholic dissidents on television news and in the newspapers.
"That discordant voice in the midst of such overwhelming and passionate response to the death of one of the greatest persons in the history of the world sounds particularly shrill at times like this," he said. "To their credit, many dissidents have been careful to at least acknowledge many of the pope's quite substantial accomplishments."
Horgan was more surprised, however, how positive non-religious commentators were. "I've seen non-Catholic, modernist, progressive writers effectively acknowledge that they may not agree with much of what he stands for, but gotta give him credit for the fall of communism or taking a bullet and forgiving his would-be assassin," he said.
Horgan said the pope's funeral provided "almost a catechesis" on Catholic belief on life, death and the resurrection.
Some commentators compared the outpouring of grief at Pope John Paul's death to that displayed over the death of Princess Diana, and described the pope as having a "personality cult."
"The secular press, while paying homage to the pope, has been careful to separate the greatness of the man from the ideas he preached and the faith he held," said J. Fraser Field, executive officer of the Catholic Education Resource Centre (www.catholiceducation.org). "That can't be done. Pope John Paul II was the embodiment of his Catholic faith; he was the living expression of the ideas he taught."
"Attributing the pope's greatness to factors of personality or 'charisma' or character allows the media to love the man and then later attack his ideas, to be critical of his legacy," Field said.
Ex-nun Manning also wrote an April 5 article for the Globe and Mail entitled John Paul II: Iron fist in a velvet mitre. In it, she claimed the pope's "outlawing of critical and creative theological thought has left the Catholic Church bereft of serious theological engagement with modern society."
"The paper somehow failed to notice till the last minute that they'd overlooked something."
- Mark Steyn
Lies of the West
Peter Stockland, a devout Catholic who is editor-in-chief of Readers' Digest Canada, believes critics like Manning are mistaken: the pope did engage with the modern world, only the secularist West did not like what he had to say.
Stockland told CCN the reverence shown the pope in most media coverage "astonished him."
Nevertheless, he said that while the pope was credited for seeing through the lies of Communism, the media did not credit him with seeing through the lies of Western liberal thought.
"He saw the horrors of Communism, too bad he didn't understand the West," Stockland summarized. "Well, maybe he did."
Michael O'Brien, artist, novelist and essayist, told CCN that the pope knew he would be a "sign of contradiction."
O'Brien explains that the young especially loved Pope John Paul II because they "recognize what has been missing from the Western world for several generations now-true spiritual fatherhood."
"The contempt which some 'enlightened' commentators have heaped upon John Paul II during his lifetime, and now during his memory, is a symptom of hearts grown weary and cold," he said. "At root it's a cry of pain from the fatherless who do not yet know themselves, a sad adolescent reaction, understandable within the culture of death."
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